Ruby Bridges is one of the enduring symbols of the Civil Rights Movement. Why is she famous?
Ruby Bridges was one of the first black children to attend a white school in Louisiana. As a six-year-old, she attended William Frantz Elementary School as the sole black student and was subjected to racism by parents and teachers. She graduated and became an enduring symbol of African-American progress.
For more on Ruby Bridges and her significance, keep reading.
Ruby Nell Bridges was born on September 8, 1954, in Tylertown Mississippi. Her parents were Abon and Lucille Bridges; Ruby was the first of five children and spent much of her childhood looking after her younger siblings.
Bridges was born at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The landmark “Brown v. Board of Education” ruling was made less than four months before her birth and determined that racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional.
The family relocated from Tylertown to New Orleans, Louisiana when Bridges was four years old. Despite the “Brown v. Board of Education” ruling being made in 1954, many southern states were hesitant to allow black children to attend white schools in the following years.
In 1957, the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, refused to comply with the ruling, forbidding the African-American students known as the “Little Rock Nine” entry Little Rock Central High School. President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and ordered federal troops to escort the students to their school.
Louisiana was also reluctant to enact desegregation. Facing government pressure and the precedent set in 1957, the Orleans Parish School Board created a new entrance exam for prospective students, clearly intended as an excuse to keep black children out of white schools.
William Frantz Elementary School
Ruby Bridges attended a segregated kindergarten in 1959. In 1960, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) informed Ruby’s parents that she had passed the entrance exam.
Bridges was one of just six black children in New Orleans to pass the test, granting her permission to attend the William Frantz Elementary School.
Two of the six students chose to remain at their previous school, three students, now known as the “McDonogh Three”, transferred to McDonogh No. 19 and Bridges was the sole child to move to Frantz.
Abon Bridges was hesitant to expose his daughter to such a volatile situation but Lucille convinced him, feeling that Ruby would receive a far better education and would mark meaningful progress for African-American children.
On her first day of school, November 14, 1960, Ruby was escorted to school by her mother and four federal marshals. The marshals would continue to escort her for the rest of the year and Ruby’s first walk to school was immortalized by Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting “The Problem We All Live With”.
Bridges has described the crowd outside the school as resembling Mardi Gras and Deputy Marshal Charles Burks, who was one of her escorts, saluted her courage, saying he was very proud of her.
Parents immediately boycotted the school, pulling out their children, and teachers refused to work while Bridges was a pupil. Barbara Henry, a Bostonian, was the only teacher willing to educate Ruby and taught her alone for more than a year.
Lloyd Anderson Foreman, a Methodist minister, was the first white parent to break the boycott, walking through the mob with his daughter, Pam. Other students gradually returned throughout the week.
Bridges received counseling from child psychiatrist Robert Coles throughout the year. He wrote a children’s book about her, “The Story of Ruby Bridges”, with the royalties going to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, founded by Ruby in 1999.
As an adult, Ruby Bridges Hall worked as a travel agent before becoming a full-time parent of four. In 2010, she was reunited with Pam Foreman Testroet, the first white child to break the parental boycott.